In a French coastal town, a small group of kids observe a wondrous sight, a cow being lifted from an old WWII bunker into a field by helicopter. But Commandant Van der Weyden (Bernard Pruvost) and Lieutenant Carpentier (Philippe Jore) have engaged a local veterinarian and determined that the dead beast has been stuffed with the body parts of a woman. Homicides will continue to stack up as the county sheriff is bedeviled by "Li’l Quinquin."
Writer/director Bruno Dumont ("Hors Satan," "Camille Claudel 1915") is, like Lars von Trier before him, one of the last directors I'd have expected to veer into comedy. His latest, originally aired as a mini-series on French TV, is like Dennis the Menace as reimagined with the darkly humorous shadings of the Coen Brothers, yet, with its literary bête humaine, nonprofessional actors, coastal farmland dissected by winding country roads and contemplation of human evil, distinctly Dumont. It is also hilarious, its first chapter featuring a most insightfully funny funeral, all the while treating its characters with compassion. If there is an off note here, it is in the fourth chapter, where a young Muslim character is bullied into a shooting spree that takes him as its only victim.
Young Alane Delhaye is quite the find as the titular character, a descendent of French actor Philippe Léotard with his face of a fifty year-old boxer. Even more astonishing is Pruvost, his real life Tourettes-like syndrome of jerky tics and googly eyes adding to the comedy while also engendering sympathy for the inept detective who makes philosophical comments about his case but does little to actually solve it. When he's not shooting two shots in the air to demand attention, Van der Weyden lectures L'il Quinquin about traffic codes. When the victim is determined to be the wife of local farmer Mr. Lebleu (Stéphane Boutillier), her funeral brings out the entire town, L'il Quinquin an unexpected altar boy, a group of baton twirlers attending in their black and shocking pink sequined costumes. The sister of Quinquin's 'amour' Eve Terrier (Lucy Caron, affecting), who is hoping to get on TV, sings her inappropriate tryout song 'Cause I Knew' with amateurish dramatic flourishes and once again Dumont finds both the hilarity and humanity in Aurélie's (Lisa Hartmann) exposed egotism and ambition. When one of the two officiating priests signals Quinquin to direct the assemblage with his bells, Quinquin gets off on the control, he and the priest almost giving in to fits of giggles as people rise, kneel and rise again. The first episode ends with a new call to Van der Weyden - another cow, another body in pieces.
L'il Quinquin is the type to throw a lit firecracker into his exasperated mother's kitchen, yet he shows kindness to his senile gramps (who amuses us with his eccentric table setting skills) and great tenderness with Eve. As the bodies mount, so do small town scandals, but the denizens continue on with their Bastille Day celebrations, singing contests and daily chores. L'il Quinquin is treated to an inexplicable visit from 'Speedy Man,' a neighbor's cousin, and also finds a secret passage to the bunker that explains how that first cow could have gotten there. Dumont never gives us the satisfaction of a crime solved, although his detective does note that everything seems to circle around L'il Quinquin's dad, whose majestic white show horses are a sharp contrast to his neighbors' working cows. Pigs will get into the murderer's act as well, Van der Weyden concluding 'This is hell here. We're going head to head with the devil.'
"L'il Quinquin" is easily Dumont's most accessible work while remaining true to his aesthetic. Should he continue the series, which is a possibility, I for one will be back for more.
A gang of kids, led by tough little Quinquin (Alane Delhaye), living in a small coastal town in the north of France watch a helicopter flying low over their heads. They rush to the hover site and watch a dead cow being lifted out of the depths of an old WWII German bunker. This bizarre event is the beginning of a string of grizzly murders that police Commandant Van der Weyden (Bernard Pruvost) must solve in “Li’l Quinquin.”
In a bold marketing move, Kino Lober is releasing “”Li’l Quinquin” in its full, 200 minute length. It is the four episodes of the popular French TV miniseries strung together and released as a full length feature – to American audiences, a tough crowd for French films. Having sat through the dauntingly long movie, I found that it is anything but. In fact, at the 180 minute mark, I started lamenting that it was almost over.
The dead cow is stuffed with bits and pieces of a human body, beginning the search for the identity of the headless victim which, in turn, leads to the introduction of the string of local suspects. Soon, following the first victim’s death and mutilation, the wife of a prosperous farmer, Monsieur Lableu (Stephane Boutillier), becomes another victim with its human bits inside cow. A Mad Cow, in fact. This time the victim is an immigrant, M. Bhiri, who may have been having an affair with Madame Lableu. The plot thickens, and the body count grows, as Commandant Van der Weyden and his lieutenant and driver, Carpentier (Philippe Jore), bumble around, missing the obvious clues, trying to find the killer.
Do not expect everything tied up in a nice package. Helmer Bruno Dumont pens the complex script, too, creating a myriad of characters – all quirky with facial ticks, deformities, mental disorders, secrets and desires – and, of course, Mad Cow Disease. Opinion is not a factor in this odd universe where abnormal, to us, is perfectly normal, despite all of the character foibles.
There are far too many threads to write real synopsis. There are the gruesome murders and cow deaths, sure, but there is dark humor galore and an element of slapstick with the commandant and Carpentier, with “let’s roll!” Van der Weyden’s tag line throughout. Carpentier is, by the way, a crazy driver, coming to pick up his boss driving on two wheels.
The title character is the glue that holds the loose structure of the film nicely together. There is something for any film buff in “Li’l Quinquin,” like the ongoing dislike between the cop and the kid – “He really bugs me!” they say of each other throughout the film. It may sound weird for a film about brutal murders, but maestro Bruno Dumont gives us a charming and often funny story, too. I give it an A-.
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